MVP Race: Julius Randle enters Top 10 for the first time

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MVP Race: Julius Randle enters Top 10 for the first time

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MVP Race: Julius Randle enters Top 10 for the first time

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With mere weeks left in the regular season, we are approaching our final installment of the 2020-21 NBA MVP rankings series, which has been a blast to put together weekly throughout this campaign.

Things have remained steady at the top, though there has been some interesting movement in other parts of the Top 10 that bear mentioning.

Below, you can check out the Top 15 players in our MVP rankings for 2020-21, as voted on by our entire team at HoopsHype.

1
Nikola Jokic (Denver)

With all eyes on the reeling Los Angeles Lakers and the streaking Denver Nuggets facing off on national TV last night, it was the Lakers who came through with the relatively surprising home victory, a vital one for their hopes of staying out of the play-in tournament.

Nevertheless, it’s tough to fault MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic for that result, as he was the only Denver player last night to cross the 20-point threshold, let alone the 30-point threshold. Jokic finished the night with 32 points on 12-for-28 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Even after his big performance, however, Jokic was sure to credit Lakers backup big man Marc Gasol, who was a +17 in just 17 minutes of action, and played outstanding defense during his time on the floor:

With under 10 games remaining in the regular season, it’s become rather clear who the 2020-21 MVP is going to be, and the betting odds reflect that emphatically:

Jokic is set to become the NBA’s second-straight MVP to come from Europe, a fascinating feat that indicates where the future of the game could be headed.

For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

2
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

The Philadelphia 76ers are in fantastic form right now, winning their last five games, with four of those victories coming by double-digits. Most impressive from that run was a 44-point win for Philadelphia over the Atlanta Hawks, followed up by a 22-point win over the Trae Young-led squad.

What’s really interesting about the Sixers’ form, however, is that it’s happening with their MVP candidate, Joel Embiid, seeing a slight dip in production. Over his last five games, Embiid is averaging just 20.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on 47.4 percent shooting, 31.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Nevertheless, Embiid’s numbers going down a bit probably has to do with the fact that he’s had to play fewer minutes lately due to the one-sided nature of the 76ers’ recent outings more than anything else.

Embiid remains the league’s third-leading scorer at 29.0 points per contest.

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

3
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

In true two-time MVP fashion, Giannis Antetokounmpo had arguably his best performance of the season on national television Sunday, going toe-to-toe with another former MVP in Kevin Durant.

In what was a thrilling back-and-forth affair, the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Antetokounmpo, ultimately coming out on top 117-114 thanks to an outrageous 49-point, eight-rebound, three-block performance by the Greek Freak.

Antetokounmpo set a career-high mark in field goals attempted that day, shooting the ball 36 times, which was a byproduct of how the Nets defended him with just one opponent most of the game. He discussed attacking that type of coverage afterwards (via The Athletic):

While Antetokounmpo initially joked about the one-on-one coverage from the Nets, he eventually revealed that it can actually be difficult to play the way he did on Sunday because it goes against his natural basketball inclination. “To be serious now, it’s kind of hard because my whole life I’ve been wanting to create, either for myself or my teammates,” Antetokounmpo said. “That is my first instinct. Finding guys and going through cracks, throwing it to the dunker, throwing to the 3-point line, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Sometimes, I go in with a mindset that that is what I’m going to do tonight and then all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Whoa. Nobody’s helping. Nobody’s double-teaming. I have so much space.’ And you kind of gotta switch your mindset during the game, like this night is not going to be a night where you’re going to create. This is going to be a night where I gotta get to a spot and execute.”

Antetokounmpo’s jumper looked quite smooth against the Nets Sunday, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep that up in the playoffs. If he can, the Bucks will be a seriously tough out over the course of a seven-game series.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

4
Stephen Curry (Golden State)

The NBA’s leading scorer this season at 31.4 points, Stephen Curry has continued with his absurd level of form recently, putting up 34.4 points and 5.4 assists over his last five outings, a stretch in which the Golden State Warriors have gone 3-2.

Curry, like some of the other top MVP candidates recently, was also on ESPN last night, facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans, and he stepped up to the plate in a major way, scoring 41 points on 14-of-26 shooting, going 8-for-18 from three.

After the game, Curry’s longtime teammate Draymond Green discussed how he feels foes feel about having to face the former two-time league MVP (via ESPN):

 “Anytime you step on the floor with Steph Curry, there’s an advantage there,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “So, teams are terrified of him — and everywhere he runs on the floor — with or without the ball — teams are terrified. That type of gravity, he pulls a lot of weight … I wouldn’t want to see a team with Steph Curry on it. We all know what he’s capable of. The guy can take over a game and make it hard for any team in the NBA on any given night.”

Green is certainly onto something, as facing Curry historically has not been a fun proposition for opposing teams.

For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.

5
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

You know this season’s MVP race is weak outside of the Top 4 when Kawhi Leonard can play twice in the Los Angeles Clippers’ last 11 games and still have a strong enough case to sit at No. 5 in our rankings.

The reason for Leonard’s absence is due to a foot injury, which the Clippers have been a bit vague about.

However, Leonard said after his latest game on Saturday night that he feels fine overall (via ESPN):

“I’m feeling good,” Leonard said in his first comments since April 9. “We took the proper steps to get me right, to make sure nothing significant is wrong with me … so hopefully we can just keep moving up from here.” When asked if he will have to play through this foot injury for the remainder of the season, Leonard said the issue is not something that just developed after the last time he played against Minnesota on April 18. “Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing it,” Leonard said. “It’s not something that just occurred after the last game. But I’ll be all right. I’ve been through situations like this before.”

Los Angeles’ fate these upcoming playoffs lie squarely on Leonard’s shoulders, so the team has to hope his foot injury isn’t something that’s going to linger going forward.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

6
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

The Dallas Mavericks are 6-3 in their last nine games, with all three of those losses coming to the Sacramento Kings.

Luka Doncic was visibly frustrated in that last defeat to the Kings, too, as although the Slovenian star did score 30 points, he went 1-for-7 from deep and had six turnovers to go with his six assists.

Doncic was ejected late in the game for allegedly telling a referee ‘hell no’ in regards to a questionable foul call. According to the 22-year-old, four of his 15 technicals this season have come from the same referee:

Doncic is now one more technical foul away from a one-game suspension, which would be killer this late in the campaign with the Mavericks at risk of having to take part in the play-in tournament as is.

Regardless, Doncic assured fans recently that he’ll be smart going forward and won’t get another technical in 2020-21. We’ll see if he can hold up to that.

For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

7
Damian Lillard (Portland)

After a very poor stretch of games for Damian Lillard, especially by his illustrious standards, the six-time All-Star has started to heat up again recently, putting up 30.3 points and 10.0 assists on pristine 52.5/51.5/92.3 percent shooting splits in his last three games.

The biggest story surrounding Lillard recently, however, came after an article from Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes, which took the Portland Trail Blazers to task for not getting Lillard enough help in his prime to make a serious run at a championship.

Lillard denied having anything to do with the article afterward, which didn’t quote the Blazers star directly but did seem to be almost a cry for help from the Oakland native himself (via NBC Sports):

And it came on a day when Yahoo’s Chris Haynes wrote a piece that urged the Trail Blazers to find a better supporting cast alongside Lillard. “I took it for what it was,” Lillard said of the column. “That’s his thoughts, you know. I was not irritated with him, because he’s a writer, that’s what he does. But I know, because of our relationship. that people would assume that I was tied to the story. So I think that was the only thing that bothered me about it.”

Despite the dip in production and all the drama surrounding Portland, Lillard still has the fifth-best MVP chances, according to the latest gambling odds.

For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

8
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

The Utah Jazz, despite being in a bit of a rut recently, still lead the league in win percentage at 72.3 percent and in net rating (+8.9), and a lot of that has to do with Rudy Gobert’s huge nightly impact.

Gobert leads Utah in every major advanced metric, including VORP, BPM, WS/48 and Win Shares, which is why we have him higher up on these rankings than Gobert’s teammate, Donovan Mitchell, who doesn’t even rank in second on the Jazz roster in a few of those statistics.

Either way, Utah will be a tough foe for anyone in the postseason, as a Gobert-Mitchell tandem, along with top talents like Mike ConleyBojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson, have the talent and chemistry to play elite basketball, as evidenced this season.

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

9
Julius Randle (New York)

Julius Randle’s season has gone from exciting to downright special recently, with the versatile big man putting up 30.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his last six games, five of which have been victories for the resurgent New York Knicks.

Randle obviously won’t win MVP this season, but it’s become impossible to ignore what he’s doing in 2020-21 and not give him some sort of recognition for how outstanding he’s been.

That’ll almost certainly come in the form of him winning Most Improved Player, but don’t be surprised if Randle gets some MVP votes at the campaign’s end for his elite contributions for New York.

For the latest Julius Randle rumors, click here.

10
Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Overall, the second-best team in the league this season has been the Phoenix Suns, led by a certain almost-36-year-old Point God known as Chris Paul, who remains one of the best pure floor generals in basketball.

Fellow Suns point guard Jevon Carter recently discussed Paul’s importance to the club when talking to the media:

It’s interesting and somewhat funny how the talk of Paul’s enormous contract (he’s the NBA’s third-highest-paid player this season and projects to be fifth next year) has all but completely evaporated in 2020-21 thanks to how well he’s playing and the elite level the Suns have performed at.

Maybe, just maybe, NBA teams know what they’re doing when they giving out some of these huge deals.

For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

11
James Harden (Brooklyn)

An insanely impressive 34-game run with the Nets has been enough to keep James Harden in these rankings, but he hasn’t played in nearly a month now and might not able to return until the postseason now, so the odds of him winning MVP this year have officially gone from slim to none. That obviously won’t matter to Harden or the Nets, however, if they’re able to bring home a championship this summer.

For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

12
Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

The NBA is undoubtedly nowhere near as physical of a league as it was even a decade ago, let alone in the ’80s and ’90s, and Zion Williamson has taken full advantage of that by bullying and burying opponents on a nightly basis. Williamson has been so dominant, in fact, that, according to StatMuse, he’s currently enjoying the best volume-scoring season in league history, shooting 61.4 percent from the floor, the most accurate mark for any player ever shooting over 15 shots nightly. Time to bring back handchecking?

For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.

13
LeBron James (LA Lakers)

LeBron James was able to return from his ankle injury for two games before sitting out last night’s win over Denver due to discomfort with the previously injured area. His status going forward is a bit unclear, as the four-time MVP seemed to aggravate the injury over the weekend, though Frank Vogel claims James hasn’t suffered a setback. James averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in his two games back.

For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.

14
Jimmy Butler (Miami)

Though their schedule has eased up a good bit, the Miami Heat are currently on a solid run, winning five of their last seven games and, most recently, three in a row, including an important road victory over the Charlotte Hornets. In that stretch, Jimmy Butler is averaging 21.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Butler leads the league in steals this season at 2.1 per game.

For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

15
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Utah’s leading scorer at 26.4 nightly points, Mitchell hasn’t played since mid-April due to an ugly ankle injury, and according to the Jazz, he’ll be out at least until next week, though even that seems a bit premature as far his return date. Nevertheless, all that matters is Utah get their star guard back for the playoffs, as he’ll obviously be vital for their chances of making a serious run.

For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.

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